NCAA tournament offers a B-ball boost for US-British 'special relationship'

President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron will take their global concerns and 'special relationship' to what should be good seats at the first NCAA tournament game in Ohio.

Larry Downing/Reuters
Students watch as US President Obama celebrates with British Prime Minister David Cameron as they play table tennis against students at the Globe Academy in London, last May. Tuesday afternoon, Obama and Cameron will attend the first NCAA tournament game in Ohio – a B-ball boost for the 'special relationship' between US and Britain.

It’s hardly a unique scenario: Two buddies are facing some especially tough and taxing issues at work, so to let off steam and put things in perspective, one invites the other to take in a little college B-ball.

Except that in this particular case, it’s President Obama inviting British Prime Minister David Cameron to a first-round game in the NCAA basketball tournament.

And the issues the two leaders will be taking a short respite from range from Iran and Syria to the deteriorating situation that US and NATO forces face in Afghanistan.

With an agenda like that, who wouldn’t opt for a little March Madness?

Mr. Cameron and his wife Samantha arrive in Washington Tuesday for a two-day official visit (“state visits” are reserved for heads of state, like Queen Elizabeth) during which the two leaders will discuss issues as prickly as Iran’s nuclear program and the impact Sunday’s massacre of Afghan villagers by an American soldier will have on the West’s strategy for ending an 11-year-old war.

But come Tuesday afternoon, Obama will usher Cameron aboard Air Force One – a first for a foreign leader under this president – and the two will fly off to Dayton, Ohio, where they will, by all accounts, have two choice seats at the tournament’s opening game pitting Mississippi Valley State against Western Kentucky.

The two leaders are on tap to give a halftime interview – does the fact the game takes place in a hotly contested swing state explain that bit of White House scheduling? – and, if Cameron’s comments before departing London are any indication, he’ll be volunteering to take the questions on global issues while leaving any queries on brackets and probable Sweet Sixteen lineups to his American host.

Cameron confessed to reporters Monday that, while he’s been “doing a bit of research” on the sport, he’s “not yet been to a basketball match.” (The word is “game,” sir.)

Basketball is not big in Britain, which has not qualified to play the sport at the Olympics since shortly after World War II in 1948.

But the point for the two leaders, just as when any two colleagues head off to a sporting event, will be less about the game they watch than the time they spend together.

And then this is not just any bilateral relationship, but the “special relationship” between the US and Britain that has come under question with these two in the past and which both leaders seem intent on demonstrating is as in sync and supportive as, say … a championship college basketball team.

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